Researchers probe sparse interest of ethnic women in politics

Researchers probe sparse interest of ethnic women in politics

Venkat Raman
Auckland, February 14, 2020

Associate Professor Rachel Simon-Kumar, University of Auckland (Picture Supplied)

While New Zealand’s ethnic women have made their mark in business and various other fields of activity, they have not evinced sufficient interest in politics.

That is the basis of a research being conducted jointly by Associate Professor Rachel Simon-Kumar of University of Auckland and Professor Priya Kurian of Waikato University.

Jeopardy or Advantage?

The Research, called, ‘Double Jeopardy or Double Advantage? Ethnic women in New Zealand Politics,’ has received more than $800,000 funding from the Marsden Fund (Te Putea Rangajau), will find out the reasons for the ‘unchartered involvement of ethnic women in New Zealand Politics.’

A University of Auckland press note said that both researchers, who are from the ethnic communities, are compiling in-depth biographies of significant ethnic women politicians across the generations, drawing on a range of sources from campaign manifestos, council meetings, and select committee meetings to interviews, parliamentary transcripts and media coverage.

The note claimed that this is the first research of its kind- about and by-ethnic women.

Ms Simon-Kumar asked, “Where are all the ethnic women leaders in the stories we tell ourselves about Aotearoa New Zealand, past and present?”  

She said that ethnic minority women New Zealanders (defined as non-Pakeha, non-Māori, non-Pacific) have been involved in politics since the time of Kate Sheppard and they remain active at all levels today.

Professor Priya Kurian, University of Waikato (Picture Supplied)

New face of radical politics

“But at a time when ethnic minority women are emerging as the new face of radical politics across several Anglo-European democracies, and despite their historical and contemporary relevance to New Zealand politics, they are largely invisible in both this country’s academic research and the public imagination,” Ms Simon-Kumar said.

Their study will explore the experiences of ethnic women politicians, asking questions such as,  ‘What are the barriers to ethnic women’s participation in politics? How do they navigate multiple interests in politics – of gender, of ethnicity, and of their party affiliations? How are they represented as politicians in the media?’

Dr Simon-Kumar said that ethnic women are integral actors in mainstream governance, as serving and past MPs, local Councillors, Mayors, successful and failed political candidates, and public servants. She cited the examples of current MPs Melissa Lee (National), Priyanca Radhakrishnan (Labour) and Golriz Ghahraman (Greens).

Two major omissions

But she did not mention Dr Parmjeet Parmar, who has been a Member of Parliament on National List and Pansy Wong, the first Chinese MP (1996 to 2011) to become a Minister.
As well as being the first India-born woman to become a Member of the New Zealand Parliament, Dr Parmar is the first ethnic MP to hold a doctorate degree- she obtained her PhD in Biological Sciences from the University of Auckland.

“We want this study to help throw light on issues of gender, leadership and minority politics in Aotearoa New Zealand, and by looking at ethnic minority and gender politics from ‘the inside’ extend international scholarship on intersectional feminist theory,” Dr Simon-Kumar said.

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